I'm having such a great time with the young horses I have in my barn. Flagg is such a joy to ride. He's easy going, comfortable and always eager to please. He's an interesting ride for me since I've never ridden anything with such a rubbery neck. He's very light in the hand and has the tendency to come very short in the neck. It's giving me the opportunity to learn new skills. The most important one being that I can't mess with the bit. It's very important to ride this horse from behind and ride really forward to the quiet bit (of course, that's important with all horses, but it's evident with him since his neck will become six inches long if you're not really careful). He needs to go very forward, like all young horses, and needs to really move in order to swing his back and lengthen the neck. His canter is his better gait at this point. He's in a very awkward growth stage with short front legs and mile long hind legs. He hits himself in trot and feels quite downhill. His canter has a lot of jump, so he finds it easier to keep his front legs out of the way. Of course, he can't canter around all the time, but we do lots of transitions between trot and canter. He isn't very fit, so he can't work for long. Luckily, he's a very good boy and I don't have to longe him before I ride. I feel like I'd be wasting his energy if I needed to work him on the line before riding him.
Spider is such a sweetheart. He has perfect manners in the barn and watches with interest the whole time he's getting ready to work. He loves to wear his "big boy" clothes and opens his mouth wide for the bit when you hold it up for him. He's so adorable. I can stand directly in front of him and simply hold the bridle open and he takes the bit into his mouth. He LOVES it!
Yesterday, there were random sun spots in a corner that were very concerning to him. Unfortunately, his tendency was to want to spin around and go the other way. It was very hard for him to accept that he was allowed to run by the scary spot, but he couldn't turn and run from it. He became a little upset on the longe since I made it very clear that under no circumstances was he to turn around and had to go forward. Once he realized that his behavior wouldn't be tolerated he began to work by the scary sun spots. He'd race by them on occasion, but I could accept that response. He quickly calmed himself down and realized they were not that scary.
As you know, we've only sat on Spider a couple times. I brought him over to the mounting block and climbed aboard. He walked around the ring, by himself, learned to turn right and left, stop and go, and was perfect. He could even go to the scary places! He seems to gain confidence from a person on him. I suspected this would be the case since he likes to hide behind the other horses or a person if things are concerning to him. As long as someone tells him it's "OK," he's good to go. Being on his back, you can easily say "you'll be fine, I'm right here with you." He's so charming and will certainly make someone an unbelievable riding horse. It helps that he's huge and gorgeous!
Like anyone else, I always want to have a good ride and be able to concentrate and train without distractions. At the same time, I need to compete, and my horses are all high-strung, sensitive, athletic creatures. Even the smallest thing can cause a meltdown. One thing, in particular, is the light blue fleece blanket I like to sit on when I teach. If my butt is planted in the chair with the blanket, it's fine. If I'm wrapped up in the blanket, it's fine. If the blanket is folded up and left on the chair, I guarantee, 1 out of 4 horses will spook at it. Granted, this blanket sits in the indoor on the chair every day...every day, someone spooks at it. I could simply put the blanket away and call it done. But what good would that do? Horses need to learn to deal with things such as this. Don't you think they'll go to a show and have to walk by a chair with a jacket on it? The horse needs to accept these things and realize there's no troll hiding underneath waiting to suck out his liver (if that's what trolls do, I'm not certain).
Unfortunately for me, Junior is quite certain there is, in fact, a liver sucking troll living in the blanket. At first, I'd go out to ride and move the blanket so that I wouldn't have to deal with his silly behavior. Then I realized I was hiding from the behavior, so I left the blanket alone. With that said, I would begin riding and think to myself, I'd better sit back because Junior's going to be afraid of the blanket. Boom...slam on the breaks, spook, shy, run backwards, blow at the blanket. I'd get him going again and think about the stupid blanket and how I should just stop using it, put it away, blah, blah, blah...Boom...slam on the breaks, spook, shy, run backwards, blow at the blanket. Really? Was Junior afraid of the blanket or was I afraid of Junior with the blanket? You bet, I was afraid of the stupid blanket. Once I figured that out, Junior hasn't looked at the blanket again. Just look up and focus on your job, it's just a blanket, now get going...problem solved.
The other day I ran into a very interesting situation with one of my clients. (Don't worry, I asked her permission to talk about this.) She was attempting to get her horse onto the wash rack and was having a terrible time of it. There was a very strong "Absolutely NOT" coming from her horse. She was going about it in a way I had not experienced and asked why she was using the technique. She said "it's the only way he'll get on the wash rack...he thinks the puddle is bottomless and refuses to get on." She also said she'd tried the day before without success to get him onto the cement. I suggested she sweep the water away to show him there was no portal to hell, just a floor with a useless drain. She swept the water off and still, he refused to step onto the wash rack.
"He thinks it's a trap!" she exclaimed. "If there was another way out, he'd step right on." I mentioned to her that he goes into and out of stalls without a problem. That comment made her take a moment and think about what she just said. I was very happy to hear her say "Good point! Am I causing this?" I shrugged my shoulders and said "it's just a wash rack, not a trap." She quickly handed me the lead line...
It's funny how another perspective can change a horse's perspective on a situation. I sprinkled a bit of grain on the cement and told him he was being quite ridiculous for rearing and trying to carry on like a fool. He then realized that if he walked on the cement (with a bit of pushing from behind), he could reach the feast and the problem was solved. No trap, no portal to hell, just a wash rack. I don't think it took 5 minutes and he walked on and off and back on again like a champ!
Now, am I the reason Wheels is having such difficulty with the changes? Have I said, "he's not going to get the changes!" so many times that now he senses my frustration and has no confidence trying? Hmmmmmm.....?
It's really hard to think about blogging when the weather has been in the 80's in the middle of March. (Double Rainbow! What does it mean??) It sure makes you want to get out and ride. Unfortunately, it's taking a terrible tole on the horses since they still think it's winter. They get very hot and sweaty and can't work for very long periods of time. A couple days ago, I rode Junior in the middle of the day and he was a dripping mess just after warm-up. Poor guys. I'd clip them except that normal March weather is supposed to be back next week and they'll be comfy again. Me, I'm disappointed to think about temps in the 50's, but even that's warm for March. So weird.
The horses are all doing really well. I'm riding a client horse a little bit more than I have all winter. The plan is to compete him this year, but he is very crooked. He's strong on the left side and won't touch the right. I'm spending a lot of time picking up the right rein and riding him into the right side without causing hysterics. It's working well and even though it seems I'm making him more crooked by bending his hollow side even more in an attempt to locate the right rein, but the end, I can pick up the left, flex left and still have a right in both directions. The name of the game is forward and straight, but sometimes it takes a bit to get there. I'm looking forward to continuing this line of progress.
Flagg is going like a rock star. He's so easy and happy go lucky. It's so pleasant to ride a horse that wants to work and just goes around. He needs to be ridden very forward, but his hind leg is enormously long right now and he's quite butt high. If I ride with too much energy, he can't keep his balance and ends up on his forehand. It's easier for him to canter than to trot since he's hitting himself a bit in trot.
Boo's confidence in the canter has advanced leaps and bounds outside. I think she feels too claustrophobic in the indoor. She's a cantering fool outside. Good for her! She's picking up the wrong lead going to the right the first couple tries, but once she gets it, she doesn't seem to make the mistake again during that ride. She's working more lateral movements as well to develop strength and suppleness.
Spider is a genius. Since the last time I wrote, he's been worked in all his tack including vienna reins and is w/t/c on the longe to voice in the outdoor arena which has no boundaries. He's been sat on and walked around twice and never batted an eye. The first time Kelly climbed aboard, I think it took him several minutes to realize she was even there. It was a riot to see his eye get suddenly really big and then he carefully turned his head to touch her toe and then turned it the other way to touch the other foot. He'd walk a few steps, stop, and touch both toes again to check that she was still up there. He's such a doll. This horse is going to make someone their dream partner. He's quiet, beautiful and very trainable.
On Friday, I had my first lesson with Pam. I was very excited to ride with her because she knew my horse and I thought she could give me some much needed tools so I could learn to ride him better...and that she did!
She addressed a few very important things. For starters, the rider's position is key. During this ride, I learned I have elbows and I should be using them. If I didn't maintain my elbows by my sides, I fussed with the reins and the horse was very opposed to this (its because my elbows were in front of my body which weakened my position). He inverted his neck which was the opposite of what I was looking for. This was a good visual! Not to mention I wasn't as strong as I could be in the saddle. Also, she stated one needs to be strong in their core. As strong as I thought I was, I have more work to do. Core strength and elbows go together.
She reinforced the concept of riding the big body parts. So many dressage riders (me included!) focus on the horse's head/neck. The problem doesn't stem from the neck but everything else that is behind it. The horse must be straight through his body to allow the energy and power to go from the engine (hind end) to the hand. My idea of straightness before did not encompass all of the horse's body parts- mainly just the neck. Once I was able to gain control of the shoulders and make his body straight, everything became easy...and it was an amazing feeling!
Although she didn't say this in these exact words, I understood her take home message to be as follows: 1) Be strong in your core and correct in your position, 2) Always ride forward, and 3) the Horse must be straight. The rest will be easy. I am already looking forward to the next lesson. :)
Today, I took my first lesson with a trainer other than Jamie. Pam Goodrich helped me get my legs underneath me more and my weight in my feet so that my knees and thighs wouldn't be so bouncy and loose. One of the things she had me do to get my weight in my feet was to change my posting diagonal by standing up. After doing that a gazillion times, I could feel that I was much more balanced. Then Pam grabbed my legs and repositioned them. She told me to squeeze with my thighs so that it would keep my lower legs quiet. This, she said, would keep my thighs and knees from leaving the saddle. My sitting trot then became more balanced and less wobbly. Even though putting my thighs in this position makes them feel like they are on fire, I am going to work like this in my everyday riding. I thought Pam was very fun and I would definitely take a lesson with her again.
I had a great lesson with Pam. Junior gave me a very good feeling right from the start and my game plan was to show Pam what we accomplished this winter and ensure we are on the right path to Grand Prix. The really collected work is still difficult for Junior, but it's getting better and better by the week. His basic self carriage is really nice and he's happy to be there. Pam agrees with how I'm addressing the pirouette canter and didn't mind that I was going from canter to halt to place his feet side by side, especially to the right. She was also having me canter from the halt with baby steps back to halt. I was going from halt to walk to canter...we'll play around with both to see what achieves the best results.
We were able to play a bit with Junior's understanding of the piaffe being in place and not bringing his legs underneath his belly. I'm going to have to teach him the piaffe more as a circus trick than I'd like, but it may be best in the long run. Maybe I'll teach him in his stall so there's no connection between in-hand work and "work." Maybe he'll piaffe for his dinner and think it's a great game?? He flaps his lips for the leaf blower or vacuum in his mouth, why not wiggle your feet for food?
The best feeling I had was after we'd worked the piaffe, Pam had me go extended trot back to collected, then halt in front of her to take a few steps of up and down with the hind legs to the stick, back to trot right away to extended trot. This was done several times and then Pam yelled, "now passage!" It was the best feeling I've had yet. Junior just offered the passage and danced along light and happy. SO COOL!!!
Here's a link Michelle provided of some of the work at the end of our ride...
There are so many horses here at Fell-Vallee and all are demanding attention. It's really hard to decide where to begin each day because it only takes 1 horse to change my whole schedule. If it's a normal day, I always ride Junior first. That way, I am sure that I am able to work him as long as I need without feeling rushed. After him, it depends on my energy level and whim. I often ride Wheels second since he can sap my energy and he must be worked every day. If I wait to ride him, sometimes I simply have no strength left and the task seems too daunting. On Thursday, I worked him twice! He was lunged for about 30 minutes in the vienna reins first thing in the morning and then I rode him late in the afternoon. Lots and lots of trot/canter transitions to keep him swinging through his top l
Junior was phenomenal on Thursday. After an easy ride on Wednesday, I stepped up the work in preparation for our ride with Pam on Friday. After a normal, quiet warm-up in the outdoor, we immediately moved to huge, sweeping leg-yields across the arena until they were effortless. It was easy to change the bend and turn them into half-pass. He felt so supple and swinging, it was fabulous. He was happy and "up," which always makes riding him a pleasure.
Boo was very excited to work in the outdoor. She wanted to let her feet get ahead of her and was having difficulty maintaining her rhythm and balance. We needed to do constant transitions until she was focused more on me and her own feet than on her surroundings. She was never silly, just too quick which would send her on her forehand. The transitions helped considerably, of course, and she soon began listening to half halts rather than full transitions to walk or halt. She also looked very glamorous out in the sunshine. Such a pretty girl.
Flagg was the first to go on Thursday and would have been better outside. It was still too chilly and damp, so we kept to the indoor. It took some effort to get him in front of the leg and keep him there. Once he was forward, it was better, but he was inconsistent in the contact and blocked in places. Unfortunately, he ran out of gas before much more progress was made. He worked hard, however, and spent a good part of the day flat out, sound asleep. Growing boys need their beauty rest.
And then there was Spider.... stay tuned!
As much as I say I need to go slowly with Spider, I do have to keep things interesting and progressing forward. He's very happy to w/t/c on the longe with tack. He's not very forward thinking and his big body works against him a bit on the circle. I don't have a round pen for him to move freely in and I'm not a fan of babies working free in the indoor since they tend to run and stop short in the corners and can injure themselves. Plus, I've always been nervous about working horses free with tack. I can only see accidents happening and it would be very difficult to avoid one if something were to arise. I know many trainers recommend working horses free in full tack and side reins (including Ingrid Klimke, my idol), but I won't do it.
As of yesterday, seeing how quickly Spider is taking everything in and enjoying the work, we need to get on him. He needs to work in straight lines and get off the longe for the benefit of his stifles. He needs to strengthen by going straight and getting off the continuous circle and hopefully hacking sooner rather than later. Although he was timid and spooky in his early days, he has learned to draw confidence from his person. I hope this will really carry over once someone is aboard and he'll feel like the king of the world. He's so proud of himself right now and I can only imagine his joy with a rider on his back. "Look Flagg, I'm a big kid, too!"
The weird weather definitely wreaks havoc with turnout conditions, so the horses have been inside for a couple days. That makes for some interesting rides, on occasion, but all my mounts were pretty good. I was especially pleased with Junior. During our training session, one of the young horses got away from his handler twice and Junior kept his composure. Last year, a loose horse brought Junior's world shattering down on him (as ridiculous as that sounds, but we can never truly understand what goes on in their minds) and he was able to continue working. He gave me a great feeling right from the start and we worked much the same as the day before. One thing I tried differently in an attempt to teach a less forward moving piaffe was to try it from halt. I would trot to halt, ask for piaffe and return to halt. This sent Junior into one of his running backwards fits, but I think it may have helped to a small degree. I won't work much collection today since Pam is coming Friday and he needs to do something different. I'll likely just stretch and work very forward. Maybe some poles in the indoor if the outdoor is too wet.
Wheels is still having a desperate time getting the changes and I'm getting frustrated. I tried to leg-yield from the center line to the rail, getting him really strong onto the new outside rein and really soft on the new inside. When I got to the rail, I'd ask for the change. This proceeded to send him into nasty temper tantrums, wall kicking and ears pinned. This happened in both directions. What a drama queen!! So far, a pole on the ground is the only thing that seems to work. I guess I'll stick with that. It is possible his back is sore from being inside and working hard. Today, I'll likely work him twice to get the kinks out. I'll longe him in the morning and then do poles in the afternoon.
Boo was a very good girl. She's been working really hard and is going very well. I wish someone would come try her! She'll make somebody a lovely horse, but potential buyers need to ride her first. Regardless, it was a lungeing day for her. She needed to get her back swinging and just go really forward in canter without the distraction of a rider. She was very happy with that idea and worked nicely.
I worked another client's horse and had much success getting him to shift his weight more off his forhand and balanced. Lately, he's been roaring around on his forehand and I'm having difficulty explaining the feeling I want his rider to achieve. He needs to do transitions, transitions, transitions, but she rides so much with her hands that he's always pulling down and on his head. During my ride, as soon as he would start to balance on my hands, I would simply quietly transition to halt and let him shift his weight back to the hind leg. As soon as I would feel this weight transfer, I'd let him go back off to walk or trot, whatever we were doing before. By the end of the ride, the majority of my half halts would establish the shift in weight rather than having to stop. It was a really nice feeling and I'm anxious to work on this again today.
As I thought, Spider was perfect. He must have been born wearing a bridle because he opened his mouth searching for the bit. He stood rock still in the aisle while I adjusted the bridle, didn't chomp and throw his head around and by the time we got to the indoor, his mouth was foamy white. He worked on the longe with a halter over the bridle and a surcingle. Afterward, he parallel parked at the mounting block and I stood above him and leaned over his back. He could have cared less and never took a step. I brought him back to the barn, took off his bridle, threw a saddle on (he's very wide!) and brought him back out to the mounting block. I banged on the saddle, put weight on it, leaned on him...nothing. He'd turn his head and play with me or the saddle, but that was all. Can't wait to jump on!!
Flagg was only longed with a halter for exercise...ran out of time and energy. He'll go second today so that he doesn't get passed by the wayside. Poor guy, he loves to work.
This was the most wonderful winter I can remember. I know many of you skiers and snow fanatics think it was horrible, and it was hard on our economy; but from a horse trainer's perspective, it was perfect. It was never very cold, and when it was, it was short lived. We were able to ride outside in the arena at least once each month. That is unheard of. Unfortunately, there was no snow to cover the ice, so trail riding was limited to the dirt roads...and that was sketchy at best.
Everyone worked outside yesterday in the lovely sunshine. I even had to don my ball cap it was so sunny out!! Junior was skeptical at first, as he generally is for the first few weeks of outdoor riding. Luckily, he wasn't snorty and spooky, just tentative. I allowed him to choose his tempo at first, which was rather slow, and let him remain deep, which is his preferred position when he's nervous. I have no problem with riding him deeper than "appropriate" since he's far too tense in the back in a different position. I'd prefer to have connection with swinging back and loose muscles, than a one that is tense and not going through the topline.
It was an easy workout for Junior. After warmup, I was able to ride him slightly higher in the neck without fuss. We worked on the canter primarily, with lots of changes within the gait. I also did lots of leg-yields across the entire arena in both trot and canter to open him up and get him swinging. Once he's easily gliding sideways, I change the flexion from right to left within the lateral movement to further the suppling exercise. We finished with a working half steps to collected walk to half steps, back and forth, almost jigging the whole time in the walk. I'd ask for the "jig" and then look for slightly quicker, more elevated steps, back to "jig." It's helping!!
Flagg was a perfect gentleman. I longed him quickly without side reins to see if he needed to play a bit. He did not. We worked w/t/c quickly on the longe. He's a bit downhill right now, so he's moving rather wonky. I didn't put boots on him since it was wet in the arena, but I will next time. He didn't hit himself, but it was only by luck. There isn't much I can say about our ride. He was well behaved, mostly quiet in the contact, and nicely forward. He looked at nothing and was simply an honest, well behaved young man. Such a lovely, lovely guy. I feel blessed that Liz will let me show Flagg this summer. I've never ridden a horse that was so simple and eager to work quietly. It will be such a relaxing, pleasant experience. I can't wait!
As quiet as Flagg was, Wheels was that wild! He was not naughty, just really energetic and full of himself. The nice thing about Wheels is that his back is always soft, so even when he's going full tilt, you can just sit on him and swing along. It was really fun, although he was so distracted it took a while before we were able to work on actual training. I worked him much the same way I did Junior, except that where Junior was slow, Wheels was fast. Junior was deep, Wheels was up. Once he was able to focus on work, we also focused on transitions within the gaits and long leg-yields with varying flexions.
Spider was also a very good boy. At first, he was very afraid of the pile of dressage arena parts and was hesitant about going to that side of the arena. He's very easy to encourage and once he walked up to the stuff, he touched and played with a few things and then put it right out of his mind. He worked on the longe with a halter, w/t/c. Basic stuff and happy to play, as always. He is definitely one sided and finds going right to be tricky. You can tell he has to concentrate on his balance and doesn't want to go forward the way he does going left. He'll likely find it helpful once we're riding him since he can do more straight lines.
Spider had his teeth done last week and he has a brand new beautiful bridle that I purchased for a great deal. Thank-you so much, Dinah Marcotte, from Tony's/Depot Home and Garden, for the fantastic sale this month! Now, he'll start to wear his "big boy clothes" and really go to work. He wore a surcingle for the first time last week and didn't care. The plan for today is surcingle and bridle with a halter. Once that is fine with him, we'll add the vienna reins. I don't plan to get on him until May or June. I'm not worried about him being too fit, since he's a nice boy. He's young and there's no need to push him. He likes the work and the handling, so I'm giving him the time since he's asking for it.